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Sheep usually can take care of their newborn lambs without too much interference from humans, but since lambs can die quickly from cold, starvation or illness, it pays to watch them closely. A few simple management techniques can help lambs to survive their first few days, greatly increasing the chances that they will live to adulthood.
Basic Lamb Care
The lamb’s navel is a potential source of infection if not properly treated. Clip the lamb’s umbilical cord, if necessary, so that it’s no longer than 2 inches. Disinfect it by either dipping it in or spraying it with a 1 percent iodine solution. To further protect the lamb against disease, make sure he receives colostrum – his mother’s first milk – before he’s 24 hours old. Colostrum contains essential antibodies from his mother that can only be absorbed by the lamb during his first day or two of life.
Promote bonding by moving ewes and their newborn lambs into small confinement pens, also called jugs, about 5 feet square. Protect newborn lambs from environmental hazards in the pen: Raise the mother’s water bucket up so that the lamb can’t accidentally fall into it and drown and keep her feed container away from the lamb as well. Watch newborn lambs carefully to make sure they are eating well, especially the first day. Check the ewe’s udder for milk. If it feels hard or hot call the vet because she probably has mastitis and the lamb won’t be able to eat.
Health Concerns in New Lambs
Watch for signs of hypothermia in new lambs. They will appear uncomfortable, hunched and weak. Keep such lambs in warm, dry pens and use an old T-shirt as a lamb coat to hold in body heat. Lambs who have empty stomachs and show signs of weakness and shaking may be suffering from starvation, which can lead to hypothermia and death. Getting food into them can help if it’s done in time. Scours, the name for diarrhea in livestock, will kill a newborn lamb if not treated. Call your veterinarian for help with scours or any other serious health condition.
Rescuing an Orphan Lamb
A lamb who’s an orphan or whose mother rejects him will need plenty of care to replace what his mother would have done. A heat lamp hung at least 3 feet above the pen will keep him warm; secure the heat lamp so that it can’t fall into the pen with the lamb. Feed him colostrum from his mother or another ewe if possible. Make sure he drinks 10 percent of his body weight in colostrum during his first day. Switch him to sheep’s milk replacer fed four times per day once he’s had enough colostrum.
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